Congregation for the Clergy, Readmission to priestly ministry: Competent dicasteries and procedures to be followed, 2001.

The following entry from the Congregation for the Clergy concerns the procedure to be used for clerics seeking readmission to the active ministry. The Congregation for the Clergy is the competent dicastery for clerics who have attempted civil marriage without dispensations from the obligations arising from priestly ordination, including celibacy, thus incurring the irregularity mentioned in canon 1044, § 1, 3°. Although the procedure is for those cases in which the Congregation for the Clergy is competent, this entry also points out the particular dicastery to be contacted when the cleric has received dispensations from the obligations arising from sacred ordination or if the cleric is a religious who has attempted civil marriage without a dispensation and seeks readmission to his own religious institute or another.


(For those cases in which the Congregation for the Clergy is competent)


1. Clerics having received dispensation from the obligations stemming from Sacred Orders: the Dicastery that originally dealt with a particular case of dispensation is competent to handle the respective case of readmission.

2. Clerics having attempted civil marriage without dispensation: for the dispensation from the irregularity for exercising Sacred Orders the Congregation for the Clergy is competent, with due regard for the particular competency of the Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples and for the Oriental Churches.

3. Religious clerics having attempted civil marriage without dispensation:

a) If they ask to be readmitted to their own religious institute or another, the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is competent;

b) If they ask, instead, to be incardinated in a diocese, the Congregation for the Clergy is competent.


4. A right to readmission does not exist, for it is always a grace. We are dealing with a maternal act of the Church to be exercised with caution and for the public good.

5. The dignity of the ministerial priesthood pertains to this public good, as well as the defense of the sacred celibacy against situations that can endanger it, but also, and above all, the eminently pastoral dimension that consists in the protection of the community of the believers. This must not be exposed to the risk of further scandals, with all the serious consequences implied. On the other hand, the authentic good of the petitioner himself should not be ignored, whereas a potential second breakdown could cause one's ultimate state to be worse than at the beginning.

6. The mere shortage of priests is no grounds for readmission, nor should one proceed hastily. One must be mindful not to provoke uncertainties, above all among young people, who could be induced to enter into the Sacred order thinking that the ministry can be abandoned and returned to with ease.

7. Caution should be used in examining possible cases of the readmission of clerics who have incurred irregularity for exercising Sacred Orders. In addition particular attention must be given to the cases of those priests who, despite having been able to ask for and obtain the dispensation, in order to contract canonical marriage, intentionally have attempted civil marriage out of indifference or contempt for Church law.


8. As a general rule, the petitioner must be welcomed by a benevolent Ordinary, who is not from the territory where the cleric has attempted civil marriage, nor where he has lived during the marriage. If readmitted, it is equally important that the cleric not exercise Sacred Ministry in the above-mentioned territory. Particular circumstances can suggest an exception to this principle, yet the Dicastery needs to evaluate carefully such a possibility.

9. It is mandatory that the civil bond be broken beforehand according to State laws.

10. Readmission is not granted to one who has gotten married more than once, even if the bond was only a civil one.

11. Any offspring must already have reached the canonical age of maturity, be free and self-standing.

12. All patrimonial issues regarding the wife and any offspring must already have been resolved.

13. The petitioner must be of such an age and enjoy a state of health that still permits him to be useful in exercising a Ministry for the benefit of the community of believers.


A) First Stage

14. The first stage is constituted by a careful examination of the personal situation of the petitioner, who has to demonstrate have overcome the causes that determined his identity crisis and that have brought him to abandon Sacred Ministry. From the very first moment, this examination must be arranged between the benevolent Ordinary and the Dicastery.

The duration of this stage will be determined each time by the Dicastery, also keeping in mind the scandal produced by the defection, the historical path of the crisis lived by the petitioner before abandoning, as well as all those elements that ought to prove the objective overcoming of the causes that brought about the defection.

15. The benevolent Ordinary previously ought to have received all information regarding the petitioner from the Ordinary of Incardination explaining the Petitioner's personal crisis and the circumstances of the defection, immediately forwarding this information to the Dicastery, so as to receive the necessary indications.

16. If the case deals with a religious cleric who asks to be readmitted into the diocesan clergy, the Dicastery will ask the opinion and any pertinent documentation from the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, as well as the existing documentation to be found at the General Curia of the Institute of which the petitioner was a member along with the opinion of the Supreme Moderator.

17. The benevolent Ordinary, after having received the complete information on the petitioner and having followed the indications of the Dicastery, must confirm his own willingness to welcome the petitioner into his Presbyterate in writing and onerata conscientia.

B) Second Stage

18. After having received the Ordinary's declaration mentioned in n. 17, the Dicastery will then proceed to establish a suitable period of time during which the petitioner will reside, tamquam laicus. within a community of priests or a religious house, under the guidance of a priest, named by the benevolent ordinary, who is to be responsible for the petitioner. The duration of this period, although not inferior to one year, need to be established by the Dicastery, in accord with the Benevolent Ordinary, taking into account the peculiarities of every case.

19. During this period, the petitioner ought to have regular spiritual direction with a priest of the community, with the aim of definitively confirming his decision to overcome the causes that led him to defection.

20. Moreover, the petitioner will have to be provided with a suitable plan to update his knowledge of spiritual, theological, pastoral and canonical matters, according to a program of study prepared by the benevolent Ordinary and previously submitted by him to the competent Dicastery for approval.

21. During this period, according to the prudent judgment of the benevolent Ordinary and of the responsible priest, the petitioner can gradually be admitted to those pastoral activities, which may be fulfilled by the lay faithful, respecting the determinations found in the Interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesia de mysterio, from 15 August 1997, concerning the collaboration of the lay faithful with the Ordained Ministry.

C) Third Stage

22. After having positively completed the period of residence in a community, the benevolent Ordinary will prepare a formal "dossier," to be sent to the Dicastery, and which must contain the following elements:

a) A written supplication by the petitioner and addressed to the Holy Father, in which he describes his own vocational history, the defection, his life outside of Ministry and the reasons for which he asks for readmission;

b) The opinion of the Ordinary of Incardination;

c) The written evaluation of the responsible priest, mentioned in n. 18;

d) Some testimonies concerning the fitness of the petitioner to reassume Ministry, expressed by priests and laity, who have known him during the period of the third stage of experience;

e) The written evaluation of the benevolent Ordinary.

The following authenticated documents must be enclosed in the "dossier:"

f) Copy of the State's final decree of separation of the civil bond;

g) Birth decree of any offspring;

h) Medical certification of good health.

23. The Dicastery, having examined the documentation, may decide to require further elements or demand a new period of experience. In such a case, it must give precise indications to the benevolent Ordinary.

24. Once having reached the moral certainty, the Dicastery, if it decides to concede the dispensation, will do so by means of a formal Rescritto of dispensation from the irregularity ad ordines exercendos. Afterwards, the benevolent Ordinary ought to send attestation of the execution of the Rescript and of the formal Incardination of the cleric into his diocese.

Congregation for the Clergy, Readmission to priestly ministry: Competent dicasteries and procedures to be followed, 2001, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2001, 22-26.